What a gorgeous drive. No photos of the scenery ... but wow. Its a killer view. Huge mountains and cliffs, contrasted against rolling hills spotted with Spanish villages along the way. Along with the killer views is a killer toll charge for this highway. 9 euros one way! OUCH! But, we arrive quickly and safely ... so I guess I can't complain. One great thing about our home exchange location in Pie de Concha is that the area is 100% free, no toll charges whatsoever.
Our hosts tonight will be Alfredo and Marta who we met at the airport when we first arrived
. Marta is the niece of our home exchange couple, and Alfredo is her boyfriend. The one question mark in all of my planning for this great Ireland/Spain/France adventure was what we were going to do for Pamplona. Rooms are outrageously expensive (as in 600 euros for one night for a shared room with a shared bathroom with others on the floor), and since we aren't the sort of people to stay out and party all night (particularly since we have our kids with us) ... I thought we may have to just settle for a quick stop and go experience. But even then, the city is notoriously bad for parking during San Fermin ... so I was sort of worried we would miss the experience. That first day we came in and met Alfredo and Marta, he invited us to stay in his house. Turns out, he not only lives in Pamplona ... he is a fifteen year bull running veteran. (when we were relaxing at the house, he pulled out his photo album and collection of newspaper clippings where he has been photographed running with the bulls over the years). So, again, we are SUPER lucky. Another interesting note here is that we had only met Alfredo and Marta briefly that first day. We didn't have any idea how our time with them would be. Alfredo had indicated he would just give us the keys to the house and that he would be out partying, so I had this image of him being a wild bachelor type ... but it turns out, he has the whole day planned out for us, which turns out to be PERFECT. When Janice calls him to coordinate. He tells us to be there at 10AM ...
. SHARP. We have lots to do! : )
We arrive at the barrio and there are tons of huge apartment looking buildings. Very different than the any of the neighborhoods I've seen in the United States ... and even so far in Spain. Most of the buildings look the same, and we really don't know what to expect as we drive around looking for his address. After a couple of u-turns, we fiinally find the building and waaaay up on the fifth floor, we see both Alfredo and Marta leaning out the window flagging us down. Up the elevator to his house ... and wow. Its NICE! Plasma TV. Brand new kitchen. Three seperate bedrooms. Two bathrooms. Just a great place to call home for a night.
We unpack and begin the process of trying on clothes that Alfredo has assembled for us to try to get us looking like San Fermin party animals. Eventually, all of us but Ella are decked out in white clothes with the red accessories (bandana and belt) and feel very festive. Ella was in another of her low-sleep moods. Can't blame her, we've really been pushing the envelope these past several days in terms of sleep.
Downstairs we go to catch the local bus. Alfredo uses his personal bus pass to get all of us board for half price
. Totally cool. Ten minutes later, we are at the heart of Pamplona, just underneath the arena where the bull run ends, and the bull fighting takes place each evening. We begin our tour of Pamplona ... first stoppping to buy our final missing accessories, then walking along the path where the bulls run through the city, a quick stop for pinchos in a bar, then a stop at the pharmacy for some back pain medicine for me (all this shoulder carrying and luggage lugging and couch surfing has messed up my back a bit), and then a stop for the kids in a nearby play area where we also were able to see a cool little band play and get a little dancing in. The streets of Pamplona, althought they were in the middle of being cleaned, were disgusting. Trash, broken bottles, puke, and piss everywhere. It stank. ... YUCK! ... Around 1pm, we are all hungry, and decide to head home ... where Alfredo and Marta cook us up an awesome lunch. Mixed salad (our best salad since arriving to Spain, and that is saying A LOT!), fresh baked fish, and red peppers that are the area's specialty. And then, we all sleep for two hours. ... Sam is woken up and given a treat by Marta, a chocalate bar sandwich. We would never imagine giving that much sugar to our kids in the evening, but Marta assures us she ate them all the time growing up and its normal in Spain, so ... "When in Rome...." becomes our motto here. Ella loves it too.
Back downstairs for another bus ride in to Pamplona
. At the end of our morning tour, Alfredo kept saying how embarassed he was at the low turn out. He admitted he never really came in the afternoon much in the past, but this was definitely not the San Fermin party atmosphere that is typical. ... Lets just say that a couple of hours changed all of that. When we stepped off the bus in the afternoon, the streets had easily four times as many people as before. Music and dancing was everywhere we looked. Everybody dressed in red and white. We realized what had happened earlier. We arrived on Monday and had come to town relatively early in the morning, the day after the first night of partying (usually one of the heaviest nights of drinking and such). So, now, those people had finally rested up and were back ready for more. What a sight it was. Joyful cheers, communal singing, street performers ... unlike anything I've ever experienced in my life. The whole city, every street and alley was filled with song and dance. We joined in and the kids were wide-eyed and laughing as they were sprayed wth wine from time to time, and the drunken masses walked by sharing smiles with the kids.
After watching one band play for twenty minutes or so and dancing and shouting and such (including dropping to the ground and waving our feet in the air for "La Cucaracha!") ... I would have pressed on towards the town center. But Alfredo knew better. He advised us to grab a spot and wait for about thirty minutes
. Right on time, the wide doors of the bull arena opened up and we had a front row seat to six or seven marching bands that paraded through the throngs of people. Lots of pushing and shoving and laughing and singing. Tons of fun. ... Except for one little kid. He was separated from his parents and had luckily been spotted by a yellow-jacket staff member of the party. Unfortunately, it was at least an hour before any real progress was made, at which point two policemen showed up and took the kid away in the police car, hopefully to be reunited with his parents. A frightening reminder of how quickly this tide could turn from outrageously good times to horribly bad times. We squeezed our kids' hands a bit tighter the rest of the trip.
Once the processional of musicians past by, Alfredo led us to the town center where we got ready for the FIRE BULL! Basically, a man carries a bull model on his back with loads of fireworks firing in to the crowded streets. Alfredo warned us that the fire bull does actually hurt ... so if we wanted to run, we better be careful and keep our distance. I took Ella (who was scared to death but willing) and Janice took Samuel. The energy was a wonderful mix of excitement and fear as the streets were filled with kids and their parents ... all trying their best to run away from the fire bull. "Run" isn't the best description really. With so many people it was more like a "light session of pushing" ..
. but it was tons of fun. The fire bull approached Ella and I and we ducked. Safe from harm ... it passed by. And then I saw my little guy crying his eyes out. Janice had shielded him from the spray of fireworks, but in a stroke of bad luck, one of the cinders bounced of the wall and careened in to Samuel's bare back where his shirt had accidentelly lifted up. Poor little guy kept sayig, "I don't want to run with the bulls!" as he cried his eyes out. Two minutes later, the drama was over and he was laughing about the whole thing ... but it was pretty sad at the time.
Time to eat! We all stopped in at a new kabob restaraunt. Good grub to go. We jam towards our last destination of the night, a large crowded park. We mouse our way through the crowd and squeeze in to the tiniest opening on the lawn just as the fireworks start to explode. I swear that here in Spain, they explode much lower than in the States. Not so much a way high in the sky visual experience. More of an in your face, deep boom in to your chest cavity sort of thing. The show lasts about thirty minutes, during which I hold Ella in my lap and Janice holds Samuel. We feast on gyros, and have yet another awesome, forever memorable experience. What a great end to the night.
Back to the crowded bus, ..
. back home.
Without Alfredo and Marta, this would have been HORRIBLE. I mean seriously. Parking is nowhere to be seen. We have no idea of the schedule of events. Everybody is drunk. Lines for bathrooms alone is over twenty minutes. Its craziness and mayham. But this is Alfredo's territory. He navigates the streets like its nothing. Just one tiny example. Just before the Fire Bull run, I mention we should get in line for the bathrooms now so that by the time we got in, the kids would have to go. Better to be proactive than reactive in an environment like this, ya know? Alfredo tells us to follow him and leads us to a secluded doorway guarded by a bouncer of sorts. Turns out that Alfredo has a friend who is a member of a very high end sociedad that happens to overlook the main square. With a bit of smooth talking, Alfredo gets us past the doorman, to a private terrace with private bathrooms. Its AMAZING. Thank you Alfredo! Just to give you an idea, I had researched what it would cost to rent a balcony view for just Janice and I for one hour ... 150 euros. And here we were in a private sociedad with an even better view ... for free. Marta informed us they NEVER let people in this particular sociedad unless you are a member, so the fact that Alfredo got us in plus the kids and everything was really cool.
This post could go on and on really. I'll leave it be for now. Tomorrow's post will cover our next adventures: we get to see the Running of the Bulls and then on to Bilbao!
So sad to say goodbye to Inigo and Jaione. We wake up pretty early (7amish) so that we can pack and get out the door at the same time they do. Its back to work for Inigo today, and we pull out of San Sebastian around 8:15am and start our one hour drive to Pamplona.